The perceived “bait and switch” from the difference between the advertised rent of an apartment unit and the price at time of lease signing is largely a passé issue, apartment internet marketing experts say. Concerns over whether rental prospects would balk at price differences generated by either revenue management systems or traditional market comps appear to have been largely overblown, with most multifamily technology and marketing experts pointing to real-time data feeds and a changing consumer psychology.
“We are not seeing that friction at all,” says Peggy Abkemeier-Alford, president of Santa Monica, Calif.-based apartment ILS Rent.com. “Most of our clients are on a direct feed to Rent.com with their property management system, so as their pricing is updated in the system; it is updated on their listing as well, often several times a day.”
Such real-time data links have taken the industry a long way from static apartment advertisements with prices set in stone, prices that could be vastly different by the time a prospect visits a community to sign a lease. With revenue management technologies automatically recasting unit prices based on daily demand, apartment hunters could still feasibly see a perceived “teaser” rate on a unit, only to be quoted a different price as early as the following day. While data feeds close the window on that possibility significantly, revenue management pros say consumers have come to expect a different shopping experience for apartments, and price differentials—should they occur—can just as likely be the beginning of a successful conversion conversation.
“Everyone using revenue management is also using CrossFire or Vaultware or another product that is taking the data out of your property management system and is populating all of the ILSs, your website, and your call center, and everyone is typically on the same pricing everyday,” says Janine Steiner Jovanovic, president of Carrollton, Tex.-based RealPage’s YieldStar revenue management division. “You do have daily changes because of the flow of supply and demand, but I think renters are really getting used to that. They understand that apartments are now being priced the same way as a rental car, a hotel room, or an airline ticket. It is a transaction process that folks are a lot more comfortable with.”
Abkemeier-Alford agrees and points to changes in how consumers look for information on the Internet. While price is still a primary qualifier, instant access to property information, guest cards, and leasing documents have created a hybrid renter prospect who completes a leasing process both on and offline and not only recognizes but expects the transaction possibilities and limitations in both realms. “One of the other trends affecting apartment marketing is in the transparency and availability of that information,” says Abkemeier-Alford. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that mobile and social computing trends both play a big role there in making it easier for renters to find a perfect apartment in the perfect location for their perfect price at the perfect time.”
Not everyone is completely sold on tech-powered transactions for apartments, however. While recognizing that property management and revenue management software accomplish a great deal for apartment marketers, Bend, Ore.-based G5 CEO Dan Hobin says advertising a price range can do a good job of qualifying prospects and still provide on-site flexibility for price changes. “Apartment prospects are still shopping on price, and driving semi-qualified leads by using a range is better than driving zero leads at all.”